Democratizing Dance


I was at a party this weekend, and of course the question came up: “What do you do?" The moment I said, “I’m an editor at a magazine for dance educators,” I found myself waiting for the typical, non-cultured response. I’m sure you’ve experienced it: The person before you rises on his toes, knees bent and arms awkwardly posed overhead, as he blurts out, “Oh, like this!” But this time, to my delight, the person I was talking to responded with an enthusiastic account of his addiction to “Dancing with the Stars,” and his sister's fondness for “So You Think You Dance.”
 
This exchange got me thinking about a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot: the democratization of dance. With the deluge of dance-inspired television shows and performances broadcast on YouTube and the like, there’s no question that there’s been a cultural shift when it comes to dance’s role in popular culture. But as I watch these shows, I can’t help but wonder: How far are we from democratizing ballet? And does ballet want to be democratized? Its sheer ethereal and regal nature—plus the fact that a good dancer makes it look easy despite the muscular prowess, control and balance required—makes this particular dance form even more difficult for the average person to fully appreciate.
 
Certainly this debate is not a new one: Danny Tidwell’s participation in last season’s “So You Think You Dance” sparked a New York Times article that debated ballet’s place in the mainstream. Some believed that Tidwell was selling out, and that ballet and pop culture should remain distinct; others deemed it smart publicity.
 
While I’m not quite convinced that it’s so black and white, there’s one thing I know for sure: The lessons taught in ballet—namely the value of hard work, discipline and grace—are ones we could all stand to benefit from.  
Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

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Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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